As editor-in-chief of 99U, Adobe’s publication for creative professionals, Matt McCue oversees stories about topics such as client work, storytelling and productivity, and involving creatives from the worlds of art, design, advertising, music, tech and media. In addition to 99U, he’s written for outlets such as Fortune, Fast Company, GQ and ESPN. We asked him about his own creative work.
Location: New York City
Current Gig: Editor-in-Chief of 99U
One word that best describes how you work: Hard
Current mobile device: Apple iPhone 5 (I should definitely upgrade, but I’m waiting for the iPhone 8)
Current computer: MacBook Pro, supplied by my company
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
In August 2005, I flew on a one-way plane ticket from Iowa City to New York City with nothing but two suitcases. I didn’t have a job, place to live, or friend in the tri-state area. (Incidentally, there is very little in common between Iowa City and New York City.)
I got to where I am like a lot of new arrivals to New York City have — I went out and introduced myself to complete strangers who had no reason to invest in me or even share their time, and I worked to convince them that, yes, I could deliver what they’re looking for. If you do this hundreds of times, you can eventually get somewhere.
Today I’m the editor of 99U, an editorial property that is part of Adobe and tells the stories of creative leaders who are mastering their crafts and shaping their industries. In other words, if you want a story about how to design against stereotypes, we’ve got one on how sophisticated branding is making people rethink the cannabis industry. Or an interview with the world’s font god, a badarse 71-year-old German who plans to ply his craft until his dying day. Our pieces are about how people create and build their careers.
What apps, software or tools can’t you live without?
Twitter app, HBO Go app, Delta Messenger app and Microsoft Word (old school).
What’s your workspace setup like?
I have to have everything that I’m working on located somewhere on my desk so I can see it, or else it’s out of my mental orbit. (I’ve been at 99U for nearly two years and I’ve never really used the filing cabinet drawer at my desk.) I’ve also moved my office phone underneath my desk. It took up a lot of space, and if people want to call me they can always get me on my mobile. In this age of email and texting, I prefer to talk to people via the phone, because more tends to get accomplished when two people are having an actual conversation.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
At 99U, we have four people who run a brand that has a total of one million social media followers, publishes a 100-page quarterly magazine, puts on an annual 1000-person conference at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York City, and produces stories for a vibrant website. Given this workload, we can’t afford to waste any time, so we rarely hold meetings. Our team sits next to each other, so we’re talking throughout the day, working through problems in a handful of minutes, rather than holding 60-minute meetings. If we need to work through something more complicated, we like to go out for lunch, and we multi-task and fill that hour with both a good meal and a conversation on whatever topic we’re discussing.
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What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
Pen and paper; to-do items get listed from most to least important. I go down the list and cross out what I accomplish.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I am extremely good at deciding what I am going to have for lunch, a brainstorming task I can usually accomplish by 7AM. My secret is that I start thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch when I wake up.
What do you listen to while you work?
I spend the first hour of my day listening to Squawk Box. I am not a banker, but I listen to try and learn more about the world of business, stocks and the market. When I’m writing and editing, I’ll listen to John Mayer on repeat. Just kidding. My musical taste is all over the place — live Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concerts on YouTube, The Highwaymen, Dave Matthews Band, the music of Fleetwood Mac played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
What are you currently reading? Or what’s something you’d recommend?
The Snowball, a book about Warren Buffett. It’s a fascinating human narrative about an amazing investor. The lessons I took from it weren’t about how to invest in any one stock, but practical advice about life and business. Favourite book ever is A Confederacy of Dunces. Ignatius J. Reilly is my spirit animal.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
Two words: Whisky + beer.
What’s your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early riser?
Early riser. Being a new dad, I now consider 7AM. on the weekends to be sleeping in. It’s so sad — I eat breakfast on the weekends at actual breakfast time, not at like 1PM in ye olde single days.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Donald J. Trump — I am sure he has a wickedly awesome life hack.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Nothing but your best,” a quote shared by Coach Brown, my high school running coach in Iowa. He taught me that success wasn’t measured by wins, but by the effort you put in to reach the finish line. That wisdom has travelled with me all the way to New York City and is just as applicable for working up the career ladder.
We’ve asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? [contact text=”Let us know.”]